Poetry and Puffins

As a first post, I thought I would share a few of my photos of puffins, from the Shetland Islands. One of the things I’d like to work on in the future is combining my poetry and photography habits in some way. The two practices share certain characteristics, like close-looking, patience, the selection of focus and background, editing, storytelling. I certainly gain the same sense of being in the ‘zone’ when I am fully engaged in either. Wildlife photography is particularly challenging because the subject is always moving, living its own life, trying to run away. Often words and their meanings are the same.

I visited a puffin colony on Fair Isle for 3 days in 2019 and observed them socialising, fishing and bringing sand eels in for their young. I wrote a poem about it, and it was published in Brittle Star in June 2020.

How to Visit with Puffins

Travel by boat or plane to some northern windswept place (for seasickness pack Dramamine).
Dress warm, even though it is summer.
Walk toward the cliff edge, looking for holes and scraped dirt among the thrift and daisies.
Listen for the low beat of their talk, like a honk and a hum conjoined.
Wonder, when you see them, that such an odd creature exists.
Exult that they have not yet gone the way of the dodo, though there are warnings.
Sit down and keep still.
Watch them fly off and return with beaks full of fish.
Realise that you, clumsy giant, are blocking the route to their burrows, their hungry pufflings.
Politely move out of the way.
Watch them charge down their holes and return.
Adapt to their way of thinking.
Scan the sky for the dark shapes of skuas, who can reduce them to a pile of feathers.
Understand they tolerate you because you scare off the skuas and so pose less risk.
Rejoice in their remoteness, their tenderness, their tolerance.
Consider the ways in which puffins do not understand risk.

(First published in Brittle Star, Issue 46, June 2020)